a clean break

by: Tara Ruttenberg

"i'm 0-for-2 today, Chad," i said at noon on Tuesday, looking at the grass in bare feet, fragile, as he picked up the pieces, foam and fiberglass flimsy under his arm. he didn't know what i meant. i was grateful he didn't ask.

breakdown boiled beneath my skin, unnoticed. practiced in experience, i hid it well.

"well at least it's a clean break," he told me, unaware of the irony in his words.

"yeah," i said. "you're right." the best kind of break a girl could ask for.

and he was right. it was clean. really clean. almost too clean when you think about it. a perfect straight-line snap less than a foot below the nose. a 40-dollar repair job and it'll be good as new, he reassured me.

"so you think it's worth fixing?" i asked; a simple question wrought with a secret complexity known only to me. my self-worth hung on his words.

"for sure," he said with confidence. "take it to Nico. you'll barely notice it was broken in the first place."

and so i exhaled, closing my eyes in what little grace i had left.

a glob of resin to glue the pieces back together, a few layers of glass to smooth the jagged edges, a shaper with the magic love-touch to make it look and feel whole again. back in the water in three days max. an easy-breezy break. clean.

as if it had never been broken at all.

...now if only my heart worked like that.


at 10:30 that morning, i had paddled out to forget, to leave behind, to let go.

to cleanse my soul of you and me and the dream of we you decided would never be.

to turn my tears into wave-water; salty release my gift to the sea, sadness not in vain.

stepping off the shore, i could be free of you. i could be free of me holding on to the ghost of a you i thought i once knew. a memory in my heart with an imagination so big it almost felt real. and maybe it could have been. but in the distance between dream and daylight, across coastlines and cities, after months of moonbeams lighting our separate skies, our hearts had forgotten what they were supposed to feel.

they had forgotten the only thing that's real.

"this will not break me," i said in my head between sets, surf therapy my solace from the storm brewing in my little self. it felt safer out there than anywhere.

conviction fueling aggression, i had some pretty good waves that day.

finally i rode one in, ready to face life back on shore; cheeks now salty from the sea, not from the depths of sadness in me. because the ocean does that for you. cleans you of what you don't need so you can get back to feeling free. so i could get back to feeling like me.

but somewhere along the line i mis-timed the shorebreak, and it didn't go as planned. flipping feet over head, dragging ribs on the shore, my board kissed the sand. hard. and came up in two.

and then i came up too, standing on the coarse black earth at the water's edge, collecting the pieces, assessing the damage of a break i might have avoided in the space between choice and circumstance. if only i had done things differently. even if ever so slightly.

averting my eyes from friends and strangers as i walked up the beach, i focused on one foot in front of the other. i couldn't take their sympathy. not today.

"well," i thought, as i rinsed my hair of sand, sticky in my scalp. "at least it's a clean break."

as if that made it somehow lighter.



at 9:30 that morning, frigid in the coolness of calculated logic, a you i never knew shut the door on the me i wished i could be, for you.

"i want a clear head," you said, "a fresh start when i go back to San Diego;" my pleading for reconnection no match for your mind already made-up without me.

but where you saw endless uncertainty, i found hope in possibility. yet while i dreamed, you grew distant, detached. and a relationship with me wasn't something you wanted. even when i was willing to become the girl you wanted me to be.

i spoke powerless words you only heard skin-deep. your heart was nowhere.

"so this is the end," i said through my screen to you through your screen, where i couldn't feel you and you couldn't see me get small, crouched down on the cold floor as i held my knees for dear life.

"have a wonderful day," you said, calm and collected; your tact a dagger, polite to my chest.

sure thing, salesman; stranger to my soul.

and so it was. a clean break.

really fucking clean.

sterile, even. like the medical devices you used to sell in the former life you aren't proud of.

as clean as it gets.

the best kind of break a girl could ask for.

...if only my heart worked like that.


so i'll get my board back today, three days later and good as new. the break would leave a faint line you'll only notice when you hold it up to the light, the surface smooth to the touch, whole and sturdy from the looks of it. ready for the next swell, for the waves of life's next adventure.

almost as if it had never been broken at all.
and no one would ever know but you.

...yeah, i guess my heart works like that, too.